At all military funerals, a military honor detail should be present. This detail should consist of at least two active members of the Armed Forces. One of these members should belong to the same branch of the military as the deceased. This detail, though, can consist of many more people. They can be active or retired members of the military and/or members of veterans organizations. The military honor detail should fold the flag of the United States. The flag is then presented to the deceased veterans next of kin. If a next of kin is not present, the flag is given to a close friend or associate. The flag is usually presented by a military chaplain at the end of the funeral. Taps should be played at all military funerals. If possible, this composition should be performed by a bugler in the military. However, if such a bugler is not available, taps may be played by a civilian musician or by an audio recording. Taps is usually performed at the conclusion of a funeral.
According to the National Defense Authorization Act, the Department of Defense is required, if requested, to provide the above-mentioned honors for the funerals of veterans. Deceased who are eligible include:
Military members who were on active duty or in the Selected Reserve
Former military members who served on active duty and did not receive a dishonorable discharge
Former military members who finished at least one term of enlistment and did not receive a dishonorable discharge
Former military members who finished a term of service in the Selected Reserve and did not receive a dishonorable discharge
Former military members of the Selected Reserve who were discharged because of a disability
Some military funerals have a firing party that does a 3-volley salute over the grave. (In the navy, a cannon is fired.) Many confuse the firing of three volleys by riflemen at military funerals with a 21gun salute. This is not a 21gun salute, however. The origin and significance of the military custom of firing rifle volleys at funerals is interesting. During the funeral rites of the Roman Army the casting of the earth THREE times upon the coffin constituted the burial. It was customary among the Romans to call the dead THREE times by name, which ended the funeral ceremony. As friends and relatives of the deceased departed they said "Vale", or farewell, THREE times. Over time when firearms were introduced on the battlefield the custom of firing volleys was established to halt the fighting to remove the dead from the battlefield. Once each army had cleared its dead it would fire THREE volleys to indicate that the dead had been cared for and that they were ready to go back to the fight. Today, when a squad of soldiers fires THREE volleys over a grave, they are, in accordance with this old custom, bidding their dead comrade farewell.
A firing party is often present for military members who have died on active duty or for a person who holds the Medal of Honor. However, a firing party can also be used at the funeral of any retired member of the military. A request for military funeral honors for a veterans family should be submitted to the Department of Defense by a funeral home director. [Source: MIAP Newsletter Jul 2012 ++]